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To Mike Nichols

Elaine May

June 8, 2010 – Hollywood CA


This is a very emotional night for me because 10, 20, 30 years ago tonight I bought this dress … I bought it for Mike’s first lifetime achievement award

And at the time, he promised me that from then on he’d only do mediocre work so I wouldn’t be inconvenienced again, and then year after year after year after year, he consistently broke his word.

So here I am tonight. And I think tonight, my speech for Mike will have a Yiddish theme.

Because as # said, not only is Mike a wonderful producer, a remarkable actor,  a brilliant director, he’s also, really Albert Einstein’s cousin. It is true!

It really is. There’s a show on PBS, that’s hosted by – I can barely read my hand – Robert Gates Jnr – I have always suspected this, because years ago, I was leafing through a Gutenberg Bible that Mike keeps on his coffee table,

And I found a letter, one page of a letter, it was a letter obviously written by Eisntein. I don’t know to whom it was written because it was the second page.

I took that letter, thinking it was one of those little things that mike would never miss, I have that letter with me tonight. I’m going to read it.

[reaches into bra]

I just don’t want to take out the wrong thing.

It’s the second page.


“Agitated, I moved away from the dinner party, and wandered into the kitchen, where Little Igor [Mike Nichols birth name was Mikhail Igor Peschkowsky] was finishing his mashed potatoes with peas. He ate the peas one at a time. On impulse I said to him, how can I explain to dinner guests that relative time equals distance over speed, without sounding pedantic? ‘

Little Igor paused over his peas. He said, ‘a mother is forced to send her little boy away. Sitting on the train the boy is grief stricken. Suddenly he looks through the window and sees that there is another train standing still on the track beside his. And a little girl is looking at him through the window and smiling. For a moment the boy is # and he smiles and then we pull back [gestures camera move] and we see the heatbroken mother watching the two trains, which are actually racing away, but to the children smiiling at each other, through the window, the train seems to be standing still, because they are both travelling in the same direction, at the same speed.

And here Einstein writes: It was at that moment I gave up my dream of being a director, and decided to stay with physics.’

And the last line:

“I said to the boy, I had no idea where you were going with that story’, and that’s as far as this letter goes.

I knew immediately that Little Igor was Mike, because I knew his name was Igor, and that’s the way he still eats peas. But I never know where Mike’s story is going either. I watch his movies, and I have no idea where they are going to go, and then when they get there I think, well, yeah, of course.

I watched The Graduate kill himself over this girl, and then be’s with the mother, and then he tears her away from this guy when they’re at her own wedding, and then when they’re on the bus and he’s won, he has nothing to say to her.

And you think, oh yeah, of course.

If you kept the camera on after the prince put the glass slipper on Cinderella’s foot, what would he say to her? He’d say, nice shoes.

You don’t know where Carnal Knowledge is going because there are no cliches. you can go crazy, your mind can’t drift, you can’t get popcorn, you don’t know what’s going to happen.  And Working Girl Away, you do know what ‘s going to happen, because Melanie Griffith is going to get Harrison Ford and she’s beautiful and he’s handsome and their both in business. They have something to talk about on the bus, because, they’re in the markets.

They’re probably one of the corporations that are funding this evening.

These scripts are all written by terrific writers, but if you’re a writer, you really want Mike to direct your screenplay. Because you know that every shot and every costume and every piece of furniture and every shoe, and everything you see is going to tell your story. And never give it away.

I have to go back to my Jewish theme now, because I don’t want to not be thematic. And here it is:

Albert Einstein was a very sad man when he died, because he never achieved a combined field theory and that’s gotta be depressing. In whatever dimension he may be in, if he’s watching tonight, I think he’d be immensely cheered up to discover he’s Mike Nichols’ cousin.